by Coop Cooper
Godzilla is back! It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the venerable lizard in American theaters. One of my favorites was “Godzilla 1985” that was Japan-produced, but released in the U.S. as a sort of remake of the original. However, after the disastrous 1998 Roland Emmerich production that had New York overrun with ‘baby Zillas‘, like some sort of “Jurassic Park” knock-off, the giant monster hasn’t been in demand. Then in 2008, “Cloverfield” unexpectedly renewed interest in the genre and talk of re-resurrecting Godzilla began. The biggest risk was turning off modern adult viewers by making the film too goofy. I’m very relieved this wasn’t the case here.
In 1996, an unexplained event destroyed a nuclear power plant in Japan, killing the wife of plant supervisor, Joe Brody (Brian Cranston), leaving their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) motherless. Present day, Joe has become a manic conspiracy theorist who believes the truth behind his wife’s death is being covered up. Ford, now a Navy bomb technician fresh off of deployment, returns to San Francisco to his son and wife (Elizabeth Olsen), only to jet off to Japan when he learns his father has been arrested for trespassing at the old reactor site. While in Japan, Joe and Ford uncover the truth: Giant, ancient monsters called MUTOs which feed off of radiation are beginning to wake up and seek out food, destroying everything in their path. The largest of them, the monster code named ‘Godzilla’, seems to have a slightly different agenda.
While there is no way to write a synopsis for a Godzilla movie without it sounding like the silliest movie ever made, this is most likely the greatest Godzilla movie since “Gojira”, the 1954 original. While the original was a commentary about the dangers of living in a nuclear age, portraying the monster as a strictly villainous killing machine, this reboot opts for a different storyline. The overarching message of this one seems to warn about the dangers of humans contributing to climate change, something that apparently hastens the awakening of the monsters. This clunky message hastily gets lost in the wash as the threat of the kaiju (Japanese for ‘giant monsters’) builds to a destructive finale. Godzilla himself is not the chaotic destructor born of America’s atomic bomb testing in the Pacific. This Godzilla has a different origin and a different motivation for his actions, which will serve the filmmakers much better in the inevitable upcoming sequels.
Although Brian Cranston gets a couple of good scenes, don’t see this film for the actors. Neither Aaron Taylor-Johnson, nor Elizabeth Olsen get to show off any of their superior acting ability. As head of the scientists trying to contain the MUTOs, Ken Watanabe perpetually looks like someone told him his dog just died. The terrific Juliette Binoche gets less than five minutes of screen time. Nope, the big lizard is the star of the film and he delivers some spectacular moments fighting the MUTOs in downtown San Francisco.
A few small items kept the film from reaching its full potential. For instance, the trailer made a few promises it didn’t keep, particularly about the collateral damage to the population these monsters would cause. Perhaps showing thousands of dead bodies was too grim for a PG-13 film, but for some reason it was still in the trailer. I was hoping for the grim tone displayed in the trailers, but instead it was treated a bit more like a popcorn flick, with bombastic, heroic orchestral music and unneeded exposition speeches.
Despite that, it all worked. The mythology of the monsters was surprisingly creative, the plot progressed competently and Godzilla himself was my favorite version of the legendary monster so far. There were some ‘stand up and cheer’ moments, especially towards the end. Also the scene where Ford and a special forces team skydives into San Francisco was brilliantly conceived and executed.
Most importantly, this new remake further buries the abysmal 1998 American “Godzilla” remake from our memories.
Unlike the overhyped and poorly executed “Pacific Rim”, this new “Godzilla” has breathed new life into the giant monster genre again. It grossed so much at the box office this past weekend, the sequel was instantly greenlit by the studio. Expect some cheap knockoffs to show up over the next few years until the next American-produced Godzilla film arrives. I only hope they do not descend into a mess of silly, cartoonish sequels as they eventually did in Japan.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars